The soybean originated in East Asia and has been used in China as food and medicine for the past 5,000 years. Today about 45 percent of soy is produced in East Asia, while the remaining 55 percent is produced in the Americas; particularly the U.S., Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay. In 2015, Georgia produced 138 million dollars worth of soybeans.
The high protein and oil content found in soybeans make this crop very valuable. Soybeans are composed of approximately 40 percent protein, 20 percent oil, 35 percent carbohydrate and 5 percent from other substances.
The soybean is a legume that grows in a pod. Each pod typically contains two to four beans. Soybean hulls and seeds are found in a variety of sizes and colors, including green, yellow, brown, black and mottled.
Soy is found in many different forms, including whole green soybeans (also known as edamame), soymilk, soy flour, tofu and isolated soy protein or textured soy protein. Soy is a “complete protein”, meaning it has all the essential amino acids that the body needs. Soy foods are a great alternative to meat and other animal foods for individuals who are vegetarian or who may not be able to afford meat, chicken or fish.
A variety of health benefits have been associated with soy. Research has found that adding soy to the diet may help lower total cholesterol, including LDL cholesterol. The Food and Drug Administration allows some soy-containing foods to add an approved health claim to their labels that says, “25 grams of soy protein a day, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease.” In addition, soybeans contain isoflavones, which may protect against cancer if they are consumed regularly from childhood.
Different Soy Uses
- Oil – Soybean oil is used in a variety of food products, including salad dressings, sandwich spreads, margarine, bread, mayonnaise, non-dairy coffee creamers and snack foods.
- Flour – Soy flour is often used to stiffen dough and helps to maintain crumb softness in baked goods.
- Meat and dairy substitutes – Soy products can imitate a variety of protein foods such as chicken and beef. Grocery stores also carry soy versions of cream cheese, milk, margarine, yogurt, ice cream and cheese.
- Infant formula – Soy formulas are used with babies and children who cannot digest either the protein or sugar (lactose) in cow’s milk.
However, soybean allergy is one of the more common food allergies, especially among babies and children. Approximately 0.4 percent of children are allergic to soy. Studies indicate that an allergy to soy generally occurs early in childhood and often is outgrown by age three.